DUBLIN, Ohio — Cameron Smith says he believes he’s playing the best golf of his life, and it shows. He leads the Memorial Tournament, a tournament in which Australian golfers have no great history.
After a glorious afternoon at Muirfield Village on Friday, Smith sparked the loudest cheers — another anomaly for this bad-weather tournament — when he shot a par-3 on the 12th hole. Hole, a downhill chip from off the green, took him to a 3-under-69.
The rest of the time, he maintained a 1-shot lead over Danny McCarthy and KH Lee by doing what Smith did best. He made a 15-foot par putt on the next hole and two 6-foot par putts for a bunker save.
“I think I’m happy with the way I’m holding on,” Smith said. “I’m really happy with my short game. I feel like I’m hitting the ball well. Just need to sort out the longer stuff.”
As for his experience at the memorial?
Smith has made the cut just twice in his previous six games, both times outside the top 60. His best round was a 71.
But this is a new Smith, winner of the Players Championship and Sentry Championship, the third-ranked player in the world.
So it’s no surprise that even at Muirfield Village he shot 67-69 for an 8-under 136 and held the lead over the weekend.
“I think my game is in a good position. There’s no reason I shouldn’t,” he said. “I’m playing some of the best golf of my life and I feel like I’m getting more comfortable playing longer games. So looking forward to everything.”
Billy Horscher birdied every hole for a four-under 68 that put him on par with Torrey Pines champion Luke Lister, PGA Tour rookies Cameron Young and David Riley and Jonathan Vegas are behind Group 2.
Rory McIlroy had a 69, three shots behind. Defending champion Patrick Cantley closed with two big par putts for a 3-under 141 with a 69.
The cut is 146, which is 2 over. Missing the weekend were Bryson DeChambeau and Harris English, both back from injury. DeChambeau (hand surgery) has not played since the Masters. English (hip surgery) has not played since the Sony Open in January.
Also missing out were Hudson Swafford, Matt Jones, Australia’s Jed Morgan and U.S. Amateur champion James Piot, who gave them two extra days to travel to London and London Week’s first Saudi-funded LIV Golf Invitational, which puts PGA Tour membership at risk, at least for Swafford and Jones.
McCarthy’s name was prominently mentioned even before the commemoration began, and he lived up to his fame. He made just 25 putts Friday — 24 the day before — for a 3-under 69 and one behind.
For those who haven’t pored over PGA Tour stats, it was a little surprising when McIlroy was asked earlier this week who he thinks is the better putter in the game today. He mentioned Jordan Spieth. Everyone knows him. He has been impressed by Sam Burns, who has won three times in the past eight months.
He mentioned McCarthy.
Speaking of McIlroy’s comments earlier this week, McCarthy said with a laugh: “I want to drive it like Rory.”
“Everyone has the best part of their game. Obviously, putting is part of me,” said McCarthy, who ranks No. 5 in key putting stats this season. “The tee was the best part of his game. I wasn’t slack on the field, like putting was not the only thing I was good at. Everyone held up my putt; yeah, I’m a good one Putting. But I need to do good things to putt.”
Meanwhile, McIlroy gained momentum after closing the Masters with a 64 and finishing second. He is four behind in the Wells Fargo Championship and three behind in the PGA Championship playoffs.
McIlroy swept into the mix with tall, true fairway metal at the Memorial, and by the end of his round, the eagle on the par-5 fifth came into the fresh breeze to 6 feet. His bogey on the par-3 eighth bunker slowed his momentum, but his 69 kept him in reasonable shape heading into the weekend.
Jon Rahm overcame a calf on the second hole — he birdied the next — to hit a 70 without his best iron game. He shot 142, 2 under, and six behind. Ram wins in 2020. He led by six after three rounds last year until his positive COVID-19 test knocked him out of the final round.